by Kathy Hollen
MONTPELIER — Local artist and entrepreneur Mary Admasian, one of six artists selected to display their work at the Supreme Court Gallery this season, is currently showing “Boundaries, Balance and Confinement: Navigating the Limits of Nature and Society.” This provocative collection of over 20 assemblages can be studied leisurely to best advantage at this venue, which is located between the Pavilion Building and the State House at 111 State St. Admasian is a native of Detroit but is now a long-time Vermont resident. She is a multidisciplinary artist who has exhibited nationally and who founded Lights On Marketing and Communication Design 15 years ago to provide marketing and branding services for socially responsible businesses. Several prominent art institutions and private individuals have collected her work, and she was selected to participate in Vermont Studio Center’s second annual Artist’s Residency Program in Johnson.
In this new collection, Admasian has united her artistry with her commitment to personal empowerment to encourage viewers to create their own narrative surrounding social awareness and activism. She spent the past 18 months collecting natural objects from Vermont’s rural environment, flea markets, and backyards — logs, hornets’ nests, rooster feathers, butterflies, willow switches, and old mirrors along with other found objects, especially barbed wire. As she says, “I love rusted objects and, in particular, the connective yet alienating beauty of barbed wire, and wanted to create a body of work that illuminates our efforts to find a balance amid the cultural, social and psychological restraints that both constrain and free us.” Through a judicious use of benevolent materials such as fine white netting, Admasian has lent softness and approachability to her pieces that mitigate the forbidding aspects of the barbed wire, and in so doing she helps illuminate the duality of human experience.
Two of the pieces in this collection, starkly beautiful in black and white, reflect the artist’s exquisite precision and dedication to detail. One of them, “The Well,” draws the viewer up from a black abyss girded by barbed wire toward a sunlit aperture where wispy vegetation finds sustenance and vigor. A precisely crafted assemblage called “Seasons” uses the earth’s natural materials to reflect the undulating colors of Vermont’s different seasons stilled by a wire overlay. In viewing “Muscle Memory,” one is initially jarred by the savagery of a chainsaw chain distorting the obliging innards of a maple tree trunk and then is led to understand that Admasian is artfully showing how two disparate materials can accommodate one another. On a back wall of the gallery on a long painted board is a structure entitled “Go Cut Yourself a Switch” on which are mounted repeating bunches of willow switches, the graceful arches of which belie their punishing menace.
“The Plank” is a construction featuring a white painted board into which carefully placed, identical pieces of barbed wire, also painted white, project outward; viewers can assign interpretations to this structure along a wide spectrum ranging from the benign to the horrific. “A Visit to the Henhouse,” with bits of feathers spread amidst crumpled chicken wire, suggests either the terror of panicked birds attempting to escape marauders or simply the distinction between protection and entrapment. A small piece entitled “Nature Over Nurture” beautifully depicts the relationship between an object forged by the earth and one created by an inhabitant of the earth, a harmonious blending that underscores the artist’s aesthetic sensibilities.
Perhaps the most powerful piece is “But Why?” Dedicated to victims of sexual abuse, it features a large, rusted bedspring into which Admasian has inserted the detritus of society amid tattered totems of childhood: a plasticized baby doll, a little girl’s torn dress, a billiard ball, pieces of a flannel shirt, a Playboy magazine, a beer bottle, cheap plastic toys. It is deeply disturbing — shocking, even — yet at the same time testimony to the artist’s exquisite sensitivity to the devastation of abuse and her compassion and empathy for anyone who has suffered at the hands of another.
Much of the impact of this unique collection arises from the artist’s skillful juxtaposition of materials: harsh with gentle, decayed with vibrant, entrapment with freedom, as in “The Last Flight,” a work featuring butterflies. The title of this piece, like the titles of all her pieces, prompts further reflection. She states, “I hope to foster a deepening awareness of the issues surrounding boundaries and to stimulate conversations about breaking through their veneers to effect social change.” One comes away from this show with a deep respect for Admasian’s courage, commitment, and, above all, humanity.
The exhibition can be seen through July 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Vermont Supreme Court building, 111 State St., Montpelier. Other examples of Admasian’s work can be viewed on her website at maryadmasianart.com.